By Lauren E. Williams, Special to the AFRO
Current Miss Black USA Daphne Lee will pass on her crown this weekend during the Miss Black USA 2018 pageant in the nation’s capital. A professional ballerina, graduate student and ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone, Lee previously held the title of Miss Black New Jersey before winning the historic, national competition.
Unlike other pageants, Miss Black USA is a scholarship pageant focused on redefining beauty and highlighting the diversity of women of color. It was founded in 1986 to showcase Black women and support them in their pursuit of higher education.
“Growing up I often read about the protracted stories of African-American she-roes, and I was inspired by them to use whatever talents I had to give back,” Karen Arrington, founder and CEO of the Miss Black USA pageant, told the AFRO. “But as I watched mainstream media I didn’t see positive images of women who looked like me. So, I thought that creating a pageant could be a great platform to celebrate the achievements of African-American women who had been disproportionately represented in mainstream media.”
Today, Miss Black USA is the largest national pageant for women of color and, according to the pageant’s website, the “largest single source of scholarship funding for Black women” with more than $500,000 in scholarships awarded. Contestants range from college students and graduate students to professional women. The Maryland-based non-profit organization has also expanded to include additional competitions for teens and older women.
“Miss Black USA has changed greatly since we started,” Arrington told the AFRO. “Among many things, we now have a library named in our honor at the Lower Basic Primary School in the Gambia, West Africa. Miss Black USA gets to travel there and read to students while representing our organization.”
During what the organization calls her “year of service,” Miss Black USA also travels nationally for the Heart Truth campaign empowering women to take care of their heart health.
Arrington continued, “Wherever there is an issue affecting our community, that’s where Miss Black USA will be.”
Looking to win the 2018 title are 38 contestants from across the country, according to Arrington. They will compete in four competitions: 1) Onstage Question, 2) Talent, 3) Evening Gown, and 4) Lifestyle and Fitness.
On hand to judge this year’s competition are Dr. Myla Bennett, a celebrity doctor and philanthropist seen on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta; Thomas W. Dortch. Jr., Chairman of the Board of Directors for The National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame; and Ocielia Gibson, a former Miss Black USA, author, and speaker. The event’s host will be Stevie Baggs Jr., a former NFL athlete, who previously starred as the bachelor on WE-TVs Match Made in Heaven.
Finals for the Miss Black USA 2018 pageant take place August 12 at the University of the District of Columbia.